Over the years I have researched and written about anything that might affect brain health. In the early years, sleep was not considered to be a top influencer on brain health. So, when my husband was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I started to take a closer look at how the quality of sleep overshadows our daily life experience. This turned out to be enlightening and critical knowledge to have.
The experts I usually checked with first in my research were starting to blast out the importance of sleep in our everyday lives and the risks we face for dementia when we don’t get good sleep. I learned everything I could about sleep and thought I understood it all completely. As it turns out, I did understand it completely on an academic level. Throughout my life I have had some sleep deprivation issues after having babies (of course), some stressful financial times, work-related problems I couldn’t let go of, and many other life events that wouldn’t allow me to sleep. During those times I did learn and use some tools to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. I thought I had it all figured out!
But right now, I am in the midst of a sleep deprivation cycle unlike anything I have ever experienced. This year has brought a few health challenges, all of which are under control. The political, economic, covid, and climate change environment are off the charts disturbing. All these issues have exacerbated my stress levels and increased my anxiety. I have the knowledge and experience to mitigate the consequences of these problems and rest my mind but I am having a hard time using what I know.
What are the consequences of not getting a good night’s sleep? For me, it feels like being in an altered state of consciousness. The speed of processing of my brain is minimal. That means that I don’t initially understand what I am hearing because my brain is working too slowly. That is a painful consequence for me. Then my decision-making capabilities are impaired. It just takes extra time to process a decision. Writing is a bit of a challenge. My vocabulary isn’t at the level I am used to when writing. So, I spend a long time finding the right words, sentence construction, and eliminating repetitious pronouns! Right now, I am hoping this is reading okay!
Most of all, I am frustrated with my lack of sleep. I can fall asleep right away but a couple hours after falling asleep, I need to get up and go to the bathroom. My age is not my friend right now because this is not unusual for an older woman to experience trips to the bathroom during the night. Falling back to sleep has become my nemesis. I can’t get comfortable, thoughts start creeping into my once-quiet mind, every ache and pain is acute, and every sound seems deafening (exaggeration!). Then I feel like I must go to the bathroom again after so much activity.
This cycle went on for a while before I finally admitted to myself that my sleep problems were out of control. It was time to pay a visit to my doctor. After hearing my story, he recommended that I get a sleep study. Was that really necessary? I was just kidding myself at that point because for some reason I didn’t want to believe that I had sleep apnea. It wasn’t enough that my husband was moving to the sofa because my snoring was so loud! But I couldn’t give any good reason why I shouldn’t have this test done. The results were a surprise to no one but me! – I had sleep apnea! I stopped breathing 21 times per hour and I was low on Oxygen saturation for 25 minutes over the 5-hour sleep study. No wonder I was unable to sleep a full night and lived in a constant state of exhaustion. Now a C-pap is my sleeping aid. It is not sexy but now I can breathe all night and get enough oxygen to my brain to keep it functioning.
We are constantly changing as we age. Be kind to yourself as you go through these transitions. Take care of yourself as you face the world each day. These are my first thoughts as I get out of bed in the morning – after a good night’s sleep.